When the Friends campus closed nearly five weeks ago due to the global COVID-19 outbreak, the shift was monumental for everyone. Faculty, staff, students, and families all needed to learn to adjust–within days—to innovative methods of teaching and learning, as well as to new ways of keeping our community connections strong. Safe to say, as we head into this Spring Break week, that our blue fire burns brighter than ever these days—and we couldn't be more grateful to everyone who's made this possible.
Faculty and staff quickly came together to begin planning a distance learning program that kept Quaker values at the center, with a gradual roll-out of increasingly interactive video lessons and synchronous online gatherings and class time. Our educational technology and integration staff built out both our Lower and Middle School Distance Learning Portals with access to class material, schedules, and distance learning tips for parents and students. Fortifying our online community-building, both Jennifer and Clarke have offered weekly support meetings for parents and we have also implemented advisory Meetings for Worship and meditation sessions to try to protect time to come together and reflect as we would at 250 Valencia. This week, our wonderful ED/A3 staff are offering a virtual Spring Break camp, with offerings ranging from origami to fitness classes for all of our Friends—you can check out the full schedule on the Portals.
The school closure and shelter-in-place order in San Francisco also meant that our beloved annual fundraiser, the Blue Party, needed to be re-imagined, and we took the celebration digital with an online auction, virtual cocktail party toolkit, and the establishment of our SFFS Emergency Relief Fund. In anticipation of far greater financial need among our families in the coming school year, we hoped that our community would come through—and did they ever. We far surpassed our goal for the event and the emergency fund, and the strength of this community in our efforts to support one another has been truly inspiring. Though the next couple of years may be financially challenging, we are so grateful to have Friends like you who continue to lift the community up, time and time again.
We continue to miss our colleagues, students, and community greatly; we miss our building and the communal silence of all-school Meetings for Worship. We miss the all-day laughter and shouts from the Front Yard, and we miss the buzz and excitement of our classrooms and assemblies. But we know we will be together again; and in the meantime, we remain undoubtedly connected in spirit.
To see some "Friendly Faces" or check out some of the cool ways our school has embraced distance learning, please check out our Facebook and Instagram accounts. And to learn more about our school's communications and response to COVID, as well as resources for families and ideas on how you can help—and take care of yourself—please check out our COVID-19 webpage, as well as our Wellness & Values page, both located on our SFFS website. Be well, Friends!
We suspect that many of you are considering technology devices for holiday gifts this season and thought it might be a good time to revisit some of the work around technology at San Francisco Friends School. SFFS continues to adopt a measured approach to rolling out new technology and to be attentive to the usage of the tech we already have. Our hope is to avoid gimmicky gadgets and try to meaningfully use technology as a tool for teaching and learning.
...there is healthy food and there is junk food. We don’t want to get rid of all of the food. We want to keep the nourishing bits.
The Quaker tenet of Simplicity is often at odds with 21st century life. Threshing with the complexity of 21st century distractions and harnessing the core value of a tool is hard work! And, this wrestling is—in many ways—a defining characteristic of this generation students and our school. At school we often describe technology consumption with a food analogy: there is healthy food and there is junk food. We don’t want to get rid of all of the food. We want to keep the nourishing bits. I guess we are all waiting for an Alice Waters ‘California Cuisine’ inspired moment when we can appreciate the tasty wholesome stuff and recognize the junk food for what it is. We all indulge in the occasional sweet, but the whole foods help us thrive.
One of the standout technology (junk food) concerns at school, and probably home, are digital distractions. It is nearly impossible for a classroom teacher or parent to compete with Youtube! We know that media companies exist to captivate our time and attention. To address this we are building on a strong foundation of digital citizenship curriculum that promotes responsible student behavior with technology. We are pleased that our Quaker values translate to the digital realm and we are working hard to leverage them for continued responsible use. Yet, we also recognize that digital devices have an undeniable ability to pull our time and attention in unproductive ways. Admittedly, many of us tech committee members and faculty struggle with efficient use of technology in our professional and personal lives.
Some of you may have heard about “Net-ref.” In order to help our Middle School students focus, we have introduced a pilot of a tool called Net-ref. Our Middle School faculty can use Net-ref to monitor network usage and help students avoid online distractions. If needed, our faculty can temporarily put students in a “Focus” mode which limits access to a few dozen core academic (wholesome food) websites. Students can request to be put into a “Focus” mode or faculty can review their data and nudge them into “Focus” if deemed necessary. So far, we have found that Net-ref works pretty well. A key to the Net-ref pilot’s success has been communicating to our students that we can and will “pull the internet plug” when it seems helpful.
Perhaps a similar approach could be useful in your home? I have previously tested two consumer products with similar functionality. Several vendors have made tools with parental control features, such as Disney’s “Circle” and Google’s “Wifi” *(both ~$100.00). They both have a small hardware box that provide a lot of utility. They allow parents to control the type of content (e.g. block hate groups, violence, etc.) and the time that internet is available. This makes it easy to “pull the internet plug” at bedtime for all of the children's devices in the house. Both devices are pretty flexible with time extensions (easy to temporarily extend the cut-off time in 15 minutes increments). And, also worth sharing that the setup is not much more complex than plugging in a wireless router.
So, if you are adding more digital devices at home this holiday season, please consider a tool to help manage them. Having a similar strategy at school and home may go a long ways in both locations. We hope that having a similar technology conversation and tools at home will be helpful with you managing your family's relationship with the wholesome food version of technology and media. We look forward to continuing this conversation and sharing additional resources in the near future.
This school year, Friends School has ushered in an array of STEM-related events and, we hope, strong new traditions. Middle school math teachers Kelsey Barbella, Diali Bose-Roy, and David Louis organized our first ever “Taking Chances with Friends,” a series of probability games that connected middle school students of all grade levels. More events are on the horizon through December, with a PA Meeting on Wednesday, Nov 29 that will focus on lower school science and middle school math. More details can be found below.
Taking Chances with Friends
Last week, middle school students enjoyed a math experience called "Taking Chances with Friends," investigating and exploring probability beyond the normal classroom experience. The event lasted two hours and integrated sports, simulations, science, and technology. In the gym, students calculated experimental probability as fellow students shot hoops on the basketball court or played cornhole. Other games that flooded the halls and classrooms incorporated throwing giant dice and predicting outcomes, such as in the game "horse racing." Another probability game included "catch and release," a simulation of taking random "samples" of fish from a lake. All students had a chance to host games as well as play each other's games. It was a great community building activity for the entire middle school.
This month we launched our annual series of “Math Mornings” in the lower school. Parents are invited to drop in to join their child’s classroom for math games that reflect some of the problem solving that students have been working on throughout the school year. Up next: Friday, Dec 8, third grade teachers Jake Ban and Amabelle Sze will hold a math morning from 8:30-9am. On Friday, Jan 12, second grade teachers Anhvu Buchanan and Jessie Radowitz will hold a math morning from 8:30-9am; and on Thursday, Jan 18, Kindergarten teachers Noah Bowling and Nick McGrane will hold hold a math morning from 8:30-9am.
PA Meeting: Focus on math and science curriculum
Parents are invited to a special PA meeting on Wednesday, Nov 29, from 6-8pm in the Meeting Room. Lower school teachers Rich Oberman and Courtney Wilde will highlight new lower school science projects and learnings from the year thus far. In addition, the middle school math team will take parents on a tour of the curriculum from blocks to algebra, highlighting a newer approach to teaching mathematics this year.
Hour of Code
At Friends, we choose to carefully integrate technology as a learning tool that complements our curricular goals. The lower school faculty’s inquiry and constructivist based approaches to teaching have also influenced how technology is used in the curriculum. One example of our evolving technology integration is a national program called the Hour of Code, hosted by Technology Integrator Beth Espinoza and lower school librarian Suzanne Geller. During Computer Science week in December, all K-4 students will take part in the Hour of Code, which gives students exposure to various programs that offer the initial steps of programming and coding: putting together instructions, conditionals, and loops. Students will work with a collaborative partner to troubleshoot commands and strategize mazes. Check out these resources to explore some great coding apps at home.